May 8, 2012: 67 years later, three veterans receive the Legion of Honor
67 years ago, the Allies celebrated victory over Nazi Germany. On May 8, 2012, Romain Serman, Consul General of France in San Francisco, honored three heroes of World War II, George Cooper, Angel Garcia and Louis Vecchi, whose courage, selflessness and dedication helped to defend and preserve the independence of France and our common values: freedom, tolerance and democracy.
These three young men had come to France to save people they did not even know. But they can be sure that these people they did not know have not forgotten. Their children and grandchildren have not forgotten. France has not forgotten. That’s why today, President Nicolas Sarkozy has decided to give them the highest recognition of the French Republic: the Legion of Honor.
Mr. Cooper joined the U.S. Air Force in April 1941. He first attended flight school in Selma, Alabama. He obtained his pilot degree in September 1943. It is then deployed in the north of England. It incorporates the "9th U. S. Army Air Force" posted on aircraft "P47-Thunderbolt", he first had a protection mission, accompanying the bombers during their long missions over enemy territory. During and after the landing of June 6, the protection of allied troops and attacks of German troops became the priority of the fighter squadron. 15 P-47 aircrafts were lost in combat. In late July the squadron was assigned to Tour-en-Bessin (14) near Bayeux. The mission of Mr. Cooper and other pilots is to destroy railroads, trains, factories, warehouses and other military targets useful to the enemy, to facilitate the advance of Allied troops across France. In late August, the squadron was transferred near Paris and then in Belgium. It totals at the end of the war, 81 combat missions. After the war, Mr. Cooper performed a successful career as a test pilot for NASA.
Mr. Angel Garcia joined the U.S. Army in October 1942. He was assigned to the 120th Infantry Regiment - 30th Infantry Division. The Division landed at Omaha Beach on June 11, 1944. His first mission is to secure the defense line of the canal Vire - Taute, around Saint-Fromond (50). The offensive of the 30th DI seriously begins on July 3. On the 7th, it gets past the Vire and reach St. Jean de Daye (50). In Mid-July, despite the difficulties, the DI takes control of the heights, northwest of Saint-Lô (50), which indirectly helped the 29th ID to enter the city. For Operation Cobra, the 30th DI receives the primary mission to pierce the German front, before the charge of the armored divisions. On the 24th, the unit was bombed by mistake by the U.S. Air Force, causing the deaths of 24 men. The worst is still ahead of them -the next day, at the beginning of the offensive, the same error costs more than 60 people and almost as many missing! The offensive, however, is maintained, and the 30th DI manages to breach the German lines - it captures Hébécrevon (50) the same day, the day after Saint-Gilles - allowing the rush of piercing definitely the German lines in this sector. Then progressing towards the south, it releases Troisgot (50) on July 31st. After a few days of rest, the 30th DI is found around Mortain. As of August 7, she was attacked by German elite units who launched the operation Lüttich. The 120th RI is completely crushed, surrounded for several days on the coast 314, before being released Aug. 12. The inhabitants of the town of Mortain still remember the heroic sacrifice of the regiment. This was the last great battle of the 30th ID in Normandy. Mid-August, it is directed to the east by Mortagne (61), Dreux and Evreux. After crossing the Seine, the 30th ID takes the north to Belgium and Holland. Sergeant Garcia was wounded in Germany.
Louis M. Vecchi joins the U.S. Army in August 1942. It is integrated with the "506th Parachute Infantry Regiment," unit incorporated in the famous "101st Airborne Division." After training at Fort Bragg (North Carolina), the Division is sent to England and arrived in Liverpool on 15 September 1943. In the early hours of June 6, 1944, the regiment was parachuted behind German lines. Like many units, the 506th was widely scattered overnight. The best known action of the unit was the assault of the manor of Brécourt. The landing on Utah Beach is facilitated by the courageous action of the "506th Regiment". Then comes the Battle of Carentan (50) and return to England after 33 days of fighting. Approximately 2,000 men of the regiment were parachuted into France. 231 were killed, 183 missing or prisoners of war, 569 wounded. Sergeant Vecchi and his unit will be mobilized in September 1944 for Operation "Market Garden" in Holland, the largest airborne assault of all time, and then participate, after a short rest in France, to the Battle of the Ardennes.
To see all the pictures of the ceremony click here.